20 Minor Things That Can Happen in a Rowboat

Adventurers often find themselves in rowboats. Perhaps they are rowing out to attacks smuggler lurking off the coast or fleeing the burning wreck of their own larger vessel.

By Noel Patton

By Noel Patton


In such situations, it’s fun to have minor incidents of interest occur to add depth, flavour and verisimilitude to their journey. The table below presents 20 such minor events.

  1. A seagull flies overhead and splatters one of the boat’s occupants with excrement.
  2. A largish wave hits the boat and the people on that side of the boat get soaked.
  3. The boat bumps into a floating object like a piece of spar.
  4. A sudden swell threatens to pull an oar from a rower’s hands. (DC 12 Strength resists). If dropped, the oar floats nearby, but tantalisingly out of reach.
  5. A seabird alights on the bow of the boat and caws loudly at the occupants.
  6. Something large bumps against the bottom of the boat.
  7. A school of fish swim about the boat for a while before suddenly dispersing.
  8. A large seagull swoops down and tries to grab some food from the hand of one of the boat’s occupants.
  9. The rowboat has a small leak and begins to slowly fill with water. Ten minutes bailing every hour is sufficient to keep ahead of the leak.
  10. A larger swell rocks the boat. Anyone standing up must make a DC 10 Acrobatics or fall into the water.
  11. The black shadow of some large aquatic beast glides below the boat.
  12. A sudden squal passes over the rowboat, soaking everyone within. The rain only lasts 2d10 minutes.
  13. One of the rowboat’s oars suddeny cracks and 1d6 minutes later it snaps in half. Unless the PCs have a spare or use magic to fix the broken oar, their movement rate is halved.
  14. While rowing, one of the PCs snags a shredding fishing net. Clearly, something large and powerful destroyed it.
  15. The rowboat passes through a small patch of floating debris. Sadly, there is nothing of value to recover from among the splinters of wood, water-logged (empty) sack and scraps of sail.
  16. The boat attracts the attention of a small flock of seagulls. They swoop and soar in the air above the boat. Throwing food into the water distracts them.
  17. One of the boat’s occupants thinks he saw a swimmer about 50 ft. away. A wave obscures him momentarily from view, and no one else spots anything of note. The swimmer does not reappear.
  18. Angry, black rain clouds darken the horizon. After a few minutes, it becomes obvious they are moving toward the boat.
  19. A fierce wind picks up, and the waves grow bigger. Controlling the boat becomes difficult, and the spray drenches everyone.
  20. Something thuds against the rowboat’s hull below the waterline, and the boat spring a leak. Unless rapid repairs are made, the boat sinks after about 30 minutes. Energetic bailing can extend this time. A DC 10 Strength check extends the boat’s “life” by 10 minutes. Making another check every ten minutes keeps the water at bay, but the bailer suffers a +1 to the DC per previous check made. The other occupants of the boat can use the aid another action. After every hour of bailing, each character must make a DC 15 Fortitude save or become fatigued. Characters failing two checks become exhausted and can no longer bail.

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20Front_#4_220This article appears in  20 Things #4: Smuggler’s Lair, which is available now. It will also appear in GM’s Miscellany: 20 Things II, available in March 2017.

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5 thoughts on “20 Minor Things That Can Happen in a Rowboat

  1. My players are just behind yours. They just rowed out to the Crow last night so I used the chart…and rolled a 1. I had them all roll a d20 and the lowest score got the prize. Good times – thanks!